Karen and Jim were newly weds when I met them, back in '02 and had just bought their first home in Key West on a quiet secluded lane.
They were furnishing their new place, very patiently, with treasures they would find here and there at Antique Shops up and down the Keys. During my last visit there I was admiring the latest finds but noticed, and had to mention, the lack of any artwork on the walls. That innocent observation has ever since haunted me.
One day, while out and about, the couple stopped in and Duck and Dolphin. Exploring the unique treasures, Karen drifted to a dark and dusty corner at the back of the store where she spotted a framed painting, standing on the floor propped up against a mahogany chifforobe.
It was a portrait of an old, almost sickly looking woman. Her jowls were drawn and there was a pale greenish tint in her sallow flesh. Her eyes seemed to be intensely fixed on something distant and in her thin hands she proffered an ornate gold vial. The vial seemed to glow against the dark shadows of her old fashioned clothes.
Karen called to Jim who was immediately repulsed by the the portrait but still Karen felt compelled to buy it.
When they'd gotten the portrait home they hung it in the half-lit hallway that led from the bedrooms to the rest of the house.
That night, Jim exploded from a nightmare so violently that he woke Karen too. He was visibly shaken and there were beads of sweat on his forehead.
"Just a nightmare" he told Karen "I dreamed that, as I was sleeping, the old woman in that portrait came in with her gold vial and was pouring a strange hot liquid into my mouth."
I'll get you some water" Karen said sympathetically.
"No, I've gotta get up for a few minutes", was his answer.
Jim thought he could feel a presence, as though the old woman were watching him, as he made his was to and from the kitchen, passing the portrait each way.
Back in the bedroom Karen explained that she hadn't realized that the portrait was really so upsetting to Jim and they would absolutely return it in the morning.
When Karen woke to the full light of the morning, Jim's side of the bed was empty. Thinking she'd find her man having coffee in the kitchen, Karen walked the hallway toward the kitchen not giving any notice to the portrait. Jim wasn't in the kitchen, he wasn't in the back garden or anywhere else in the house. Just a little confused and upset, she started back down the hallway to the bedroom but stopped for a second to straighten the framed artwork she'd hung the day before. As she looked, what she saw was a portrait of a very sickly looking young man proffering an ornate gold vial. . .
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Karen and Jim were newly weds when I met them, back in '02 and had just bought their first home in Key West on a quiet secluded lane.
So, it's 5 in the afternoon on the Friday before the day of the big parade. Hundreds of folks, locals and visitors alike, suit up with a refreshing libation and go hang out over by the cemetery.
Eventually, as if pushed by some hidden hands, they all start moving in the same direction.
The Masquerade March is honestly more like a stroll that winds it's way through Old Town. I've always thought of it as practice for the big event. Everyone gets decked out in drag, practices the fine art of keeping their livers lubricated and warms up their bead-pitching arms.
It's really a lot of fun.
One thing I recommend not doing at the Masquerade March is telling the motorcycle cop at the head of the line that he's got a great costume. I don't think it was the first time he'd heard that but man, talk about no sense of humor.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Well it's Fantasy Fest week again. Key West's head start on the rest of the planet, toward the silly season.
Early in the week, most of the fantasy festivities are either private or paid admission and even though I've been to some of those events in years past, this year I've got more practical things to do with my money.
But that's the beauty of the Fantasy Fest experience, in terms of how one might celebrate it, it's really versatile. You can walk in the parade one year and ride on a float the next. Be a madness monitor, sell beer from a booth or, like I'm gonna do this year, just sit back and take it all in. The only real constant is, you've gotta have beads.
(hell, even Max has her own beads)
Last night I found my way to Duval and Greene for Sloppy Joe's Annual Toga Party. (I think I read somewhere this was their 26th annual)
Did you ever wonder where, otherwise "normal" people find a toga?
Well, a friend of mine works at Sloppy's merchandise store. (T-shirts and such) She says Sloppy's sells used hotel bed sheets, sashs and handfuls of safety pins at eight bucks a pop!
(only in Key West, aye?)
Anyway, here's a little of what last night's merry making looked like. But listen, you might want to screen this one before you share it with the kiddies.
Otherwise, enjoy. . .
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
So, we're coming up on silly season again.
Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.
Here in Key West we get a week's head start on the rest of the world with Fantasy Fest but, before we can have a Fantasy Fest, we've gotta have Goombay.
In all my years here, I've always liked Goombay best. It's just a little left of the culture, it has the feel of less pressure (a.k.a. less corporatism) and hell, it's a homegrown celebration that stayed homegrown.
This year, I made it a point to get in on the Junkanoo Rush and man, am I glad I did. It was colorful, it was energized, it was harmonious and it was loud.
Like Mummers on steroids, these cats danced and pranced their way from the Elks Club, up to Duval and back down Petronia to the main stage and the drums and bells and whistles never missed a beat.
By the time they got to where they were going, better than half the neighborhood was walkin' and talkin' and movin' and groovin' with 'em.
It was so cool!
"Junkanoo", I've come to find out, is a Bahamian cultural expression. It's all about parades that are held in the Bahamas twice a year, on December 26th and January 1st. (New Year's Day is when the Mummers do their thing too)
The word “Junkanoo” comes from centuries of poetic license around the name "John Canoe", who was an African prince and slave trader operating on the Gold Coast in the seventeenth century.
Legend has it, he whooped up on the British navy and captured Fort Brandenbury so, to the Dutch and English he wasn't real up there on the popularity list but, to the slaves, he was a hero and the "Junkanoo Rush" celebrations were held in his honor.
Before emancipation, slaves were allowed three days off, December 25th, December 26th and January 1st. On the the 26th and the 1st, they were allowed to celebrate their Junkanoo festival.
As the story goes, anyone who was either an active participant in or a just spectator of the Junkanoo annual events was off the hook for going to work the next morning. (imagine that concept, an extra day off for dancin' in the street!)
Anyway, I've given up a bit of the back story and the color, here's a taste of what it sounded and moved like. . .
click arrow to play video. run time, 1:03
Saturday, October 24, 2009
". . .You're kidding, right?? Dad, you used to be the biggest coffee junkie in the galaxy!!"
This was the reply from my daughter during a recent phone
call when, for some reason, I mentioned to her that I was off coffee drinking.
She was right of course, I'd started mainlining caffeine really early in my Design career when I was, for a time, operating an offset printing press eight hours a day. (it's what pressmen do) Then came the corporate Art Director syndrome and a coffee maker in every office and then my ad agency adventure with long hours and never enough sleep. Living life in Paradise, stress is less but the habit was formed and the coffee just kept on coming.
Then, a while back, Doc Covington said my blood pressure was up and wrote me a script for a bottle of pink pills. I tried them for a while but they came with strange side effects and so I invoked my "do it with diet" rule and, in concert with a few other changes, coffee was a thing of the past.
". . .God Dad, it was weird enough when you quite eatin' meat and bread! Now you don't even drink coffee? You're gettin' strange in your old age. Don't you ever get a jones on?"
"Yeah, not a lot, but sometimes", I told her.
"Well, what do you do then?" she asked.
My answer? "I cheat."
It's true, I'm as good as I can be, about 98% of the time, but perfect, not so much. To be perfect, I'd have to deny myself stuff. (yeah, that might happen) Besides, being perfect is fascist and I've got no interest in being a Nazi.
But even though I cheat, it's a compromise. When the Blue Moon rises and I'm bugging for a burger, I won't go to Wendy's, I'll get some ground round from Fausto's and home cook a meatball from my Aunt Lu's authentic German recipe, with cheese and a salad. (No fries. Those things'll kill 'ya.)
When the jones jives for java, it's a different story. If I have coffee in the house, I know I'll drink it. So, I outsource. My supplier of choice is "5 Brothers" bodega. They (all 5 of them) are walking distance from the house (even just barely awake), friendly folks, inexpensive but really good con leché and, every couple of weeks, a cultural small step out of my normal day-to-day.
Where else would I get 10 minutes of Miami morning news, find out who, in the neighborhood, just had an operation or a baby, got a divorce or hit by a Conch Train. Or who Judge Miller threw in jail the day before, what Old Town streets would be closed to traffic that day and which son-of-a-bitch cheated on his good woman the night before; all in Spanish that I mostly understand but, probably speak with a Brooklyn accent. (sometimes I get some really puzzled looks)
Now that I'm thinkin' about it, I suppose my java jones has less to do with the con leché and more to do with being a more involved member of the community.
Friday, October 23, 2009
In my travels last night, I met Naomi & Chuck. They were (and still are) an older retired couple visiting Key West for the first time from Colby, Kansas. "the Oasis on the Plains in Thomas County" they told me.
I ran into them near the Custom House on my way to shoot some stuff at Sunset on Mallory Square.
Naomi was looking dazzled by that huge "Whispering Close" sculpture as I walked by but broke her upward gaze long enough to notice me and ask if I lived in Key West. "Guilty as charged", I answered and then, she started asking questions.
My answers. . .
"Seward Johnson is responsible for this and all the life-size statues orbiting the Custom House.", "Sunset Cruises leave from the bight, a 15 minute walk back that way (I was pointing) down Greene Street.", "the best place on the island to get a fish sandwich (this was a Chuck question, he looked hungry) is B.O.'s Fishwagon." and "No, I think he still owns a house here but Jimmy Buffett doesn't live here anymore."
It seemed to me that this was a night of firsts for these two very warm and genuine children of God. Their first visit to Key West, their first Margaritas (just an hour before I'd met them) and their first vacation without one of the children tagging along. (their youngest, now 22, had just finished college and moved to Topeka.)
Naomi was as inquisitive as Chuck was looking exhausted. They'd just gotten to Boyd's Campground that afternoon after a 30 hour, nearly 2,000 mile drive in their leased land yacht (from the look of things, I guessed Chuck had done most of the driving) and now they were on foot, trying to figure the lay of the land with one of those yellow mega-maps of the island.
It was getting late and the sun would be setting in another hour so, what's a local to do? I told them I was headed, with camera in hand, to get some coverage of the Sunset Celebration and invited them both to join me in the experience.
As we walked and talked, Naomi's eyes were wide with the wire walker, fire eater and juggler, the escape artist, one man reggae band and all the tropical tchotchke peddlers. While she did pass on the guy with the "unbreakable balls", Naomi fondled a bejeweled bit of coral, "O Chuck, mother would love this!" she said. (apparently Chuck's mother was still among the living).
Chuck himself had been an insurance agent, recently retired from Prairie Land Insurance and now had a part-time gig at the Prairie Museum of Art and History. Naomi was still two years from retirement. They'd stolen the time to cruise to the Keys during her three week vacation from the Water Quality Branch of Colby's Public Utilities Department.
They nearly had their home paid off a few years ago when one of their girls developed a cancer and they re-financed to help with the medical bills. "Well", said Chuck, "we make our choices. . ."
Naomi and Chuck have five kids as it turns out. "And nine grandchildren with two more on the way" added Naomi with pride in her eyes.
When they asked, I told my new found friends I was a semi-retired AdMan from New York City, had two kids, four grandchildren and a daughter also coping with cancer.
Chuck's jaw nearly hit the deck when I told him how much I paid for the square footage I've been renting here. All I could say was, "well, we make our choices. . ."
Now, as we all know, the closer the sun gets to sea level, the more dramatic the light gets and, sure enough, at just the right moment all eyes, as if by mass hypnosis, turned from the side show to the main event.
Still wide-eyed and excited, Naomi stared out over the Gulf, through the flock of gulls to the setting sun and asked, "does this happen every day?"
"Yes", I said, "it sure does."
Overhearing the question, Chuck looked at her a little funny but I know everybody knows that the sun sets every day and I knew Naomi was asking about the Celebration of it. The relaxed, smiling energy, the island informal coming together and the spirit of "O my God, ain't this so cool!" And I knew, before their Key West adventure was over, Naomi and Chuck would be back here at Sunset again.
At the inevitable end of our short time together, I saw the Kansas kids safely to a cab headed back to Boyd's for the night. Chuck was already nodding off in the backseat and Naomi's last words to me, just before the car dove off, were, "I'm glad you live here." I smiled at that and thought, "I am too."
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
During this particular (sometimes peculiar) lifetime, I've experienced more than enough strange stuff to ever deny that somewhere among us, is the presence of "something other". Call it "higher power" or "spirit in the sky", "universal consciousness", "unconditional love" or "God". . .
I believe it co-exists within and without us.
While agnostics think they corner the market on needing proof, a visible "real world" manifestation of that "something other" before they might embrace the concept of it's being, they're not hardly alone. Sometimes even persons of faith, (unless they're zealots) question their convictions.
During one of my questioning times, not long after I had started my meditation practice, I recalled these words attributed to the Christ in verse 113 of the Thomas Gospel,
". . .the kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth but men (and He meant women too) do not see it."
It's pretty common knowledge that after 2,000 years of translations from Aramaic and Hebrew to Greek, Latin, German and finally English - from a guy who spoke in metaphor in the first place - lots has been lost in the telling.
The word "kingdom" for example, is not really accurate.
The Christ wasn't talking about a sky-scraping invisible castle on a hilltop (like something out of Jason and the Argonauts). He was meaning that the "reign" (a.k.a. presence) of a "higher power", "spirit in the sky", "universal consciousness", "unconditional love" or "God" is within us and all around us but, because we're all caught up in our day-to-day frantic antics, we look right past it.
Well, I started looking for some signs of that presence.
I was out and about one afternoon, taking care of business and keeping an eye peeled. I'd been working the problem for over a week and was still coming up empty. But that particular afternoon, I pondered my way past the Green Parrot and at just that moment the jukebox let loose with, "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. . ."
My first thought was, "well, goo goo a 'joob, I know that!" (we've all seen J.T.'s "one human family" bumper-stickers) But then I thought, "it's bigger than that!" Every human, every Key West chicken and polydactyl (6 toed) cat, every blade of grass and palm tree, the ocean and every cloud in the sky, molecule in the air and rock on the moon, every ring around Saturn and star in the night sky are made out of the same stuff.
On a mega-molecular/quantum physics level, everything that "is", is inter-connected. The whole universe is a single energy field of being, an expression of one creation. That being the case, which I believe it is, there must be a manifestation of that "higher power", "spirit in the sky", "universal consciousness", "unconditional love" or "God" common to everything, that we humans, even at our limited level of gross existence, might realize organically.
I was sitting at the picnic table under the Kapok Tree in front of the courthouse when it came to me. . .
The lawyer lady in her judiciously short skirt and heels making a break for Fred's Courthouse Deli, the Conch Train and all the tourists riding it, the hands on the courthouse clock, the chickens & pigeons pecking around in the dirt and the necking geckos. . .
The grass brushing in the breeze, the trees swinging in the wind, the clouds, a string of last year's Fantasy Fest beads hung up on a phone line and me, shifting my weight from cheek to cheek on the wooden bench. . .
Everything was moving.
The manifestation of "higher power", "spirit in the sky", "universal consciousness", "unconditional love" or "God",
I reckoned, is MOTION.
We can see it, we can feel it and we all participate in it. We can't create it, we can't stop it. Motion is everywhere, always has been and always will be. It is welcoming and non-judgemental. It is within us and without us. . .
Aren't those traits sounding a lot like those of our "higher power", "spirit in the sky", "universal consciousness", "unconditional love" or "God"?